The Employers' Association

The Employers’ Association (TEA) is a not-for-profit employers’ association, formed in 1939, with offices in Grand Rapids serving the West Michigan employer community. We help more than 600 member companies maximize employee productivity and minimize employer liability through human resources and management advice, training, survey data, and consulting services.

TEA is in the business of helping people. This blog is intended to address human issues, concerns and the things that impact people - be they self-perpetuated or externally imposed. Feel free to respond to the thoughts presented here, for without each other, we are nothing!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Knowledge is the key to success. If we learn we will achieve. If we set our sights high when establishing our goals and objectives, and work hard to equip ourselves with the knowledge to accomplish our goals, great things will happen. In front of each of us lies an endless number of possibilities as long as we pay attention in to what was taught in school, apply what we learned then “never stop learning” throughout life. Knowledge IS essential to our being able to make informed, intentional choices as it helps us to understand how something can be (or has been) done.  It is hard to be original and innovative unless we understand WHY things are done the way they are (so that we can retain the good and replace the bad when we take action to initiate resolution or change).  Knowledge is but the key, however, that helps to open the lock – it takes Wisdom to open the door and courage to cross over the threshold.

Wisdom is the application of knowledge. Knowing facts, details or information does not guarantee success.  An individual can memorize information, demonstrate subject-matter awareness and seemingly “know all the answers” but be incapable of APPLYING the information they know when confronted with an unfamiliar or unknown situation.  Individuals chosen to participate on the TV game show Jeopardy demonstrate vast familiarity with all sorts of knowledge – an unending ability to recall what many would consider useless facts while demonstrating an astounding grasp of history, trivia and culture – but are rarely more successful than any of the rest of us because KNOWING (about things, situations or life) does not necessarily translate to SUCCESSFULLY ACCOMPLISHING the development and initiation of solutions.  The application of knowledge through wise choices, decisions and actions that anticipate consequences (both planned and unintended) is what truly defines success – particularly if we do not care who gets the credit for the results that are achieved. Knowledge allows us to think about issues, topics and challenges from many different perspectives. Wisdom (the application of knowledge) allows us to succeed by putting what we know into action by applying the information we have acquired to resolve a variety of issues, situations and concerns that we have not previously witnessed, experienced or studied.

All individuals are capable of learning (if they apply themselves).  Some learn through books, observation and study.  Others are more tactile than cognitive in their learning, though, understanding by doing, experiencing and experimenting rather than reading, studying and visualizing.  College – for far too long considered the ONLY way to advance and achieve success – is a good learning environment for some (but not all).  Trade schools provide knowledge that can be applied within technical careers (manufacturing, tool and die, machinists, carpenters, mechanics, technicians, IT professionals, healthcare support positions, etc.) that contribute greatly to society. Certificate programs can focus learning to a narrow slice of knowledge that can be directly applied to a defined situation or a specific career. Our grade schools and high schools equip us with vital and necessary information but it is often “static learning” that applies to defined situations requiring specific responses based on known history and anticipated results.  In order to APPLY knowledge to a variety of situations (many we may never have previously seen or experienced) it is vital and necessary to continually stretch our knowledge base throughout life.  If we are to assume new responsibilities and overcome new challenges we must continuously increase our knowledge so it can be applied to the elimination of roadblocks or the realization of our possibilities. 

While all should seek knowledge, “the wise” among us will strive to apply what they have learned to better ourselves and those around them.  We should establish goals and seek to accomplish them while recognizing that success is not measured by what we have or what we do but rather by what we are able to accomplish with the gifts we are given and how we can apply the knowledge we attain.  Demonstrating wisdom requires that we apply (rather than memorize) knowledge to fully leverage the resources available to us that impact, influence or enlighten others while understanding what “has been done” and anticipating “what has yet to be.”  Wisdom is not elevating oneself NOR is it enabling or providing for others – it is fulfilling our own potential so we move forward in life allowing others to travel behind us after we pave the way.  Knowing is nothing unless it is associated with action, responsibility, accountability and focused follow-through. We can know much but never make a difference unless (and until) we put our knowledge into action – until we take responsibility for our actions by learning from our mistakes so we can move on to accomplish our next objective.  We must demonstrate wisdom by helping others learn without having to experience the same mistake or disruption.

Knowledge provides us with the foundation upon which we can build our house of dreams BUT we must apply what we know (without requiring the praise or credit for what we have done) to reach our full potential.  Knowledge does not become wisdom unless (and until) we are willing to apply what we know in ways that have not previously been used to resolve issues that have not yet been resolved.  Wisdom cannot be claimed until we are able to accept and learn from failure (learning from our shortcomings and moving on without regret) OR celebrate unimagined success (without becoming complacent or comfortable in the moment) when initiating that which has not yet been tested.  We cannot expect our anticipated outcomes to be anything different than they have always been until we change our approach, our expectations or our attitudes.

When we seek knowledge it should be purposeful – intentionally directing our learning towards the accomplishment of an objective or the realization of a dream (or possibly an appearance on Jeopardy).  When we apply our learned attitudes, behaviors and knowledge to resolve abstract, unanticipated or unique problems, however, we become wise.  We demonstrate wisdom (rather than knowledge) as we lead others by doing (rather than saying), by showing (rather than directing) and by encouraging them to follow our lead (rather than demanding or insisting upon their loyalty).  In order to move from knowledgeable to wise – from smart to intelligent – one must realize that life is NOT knowing all the right answers (rather it is knowing the right questions to ask) and accepting that learning from failure and moving forward is often better than always being right (whether real or imagined) in life.

Monday, December 12, 2016


Every team needs a leader – but rarely can one individual set the course, trim the sails, maintain course and stabilize the ship by him or herself without the help or assistance of others.  True leaders emerge during times of trouble, turmoil and strife – riding the strength of their convictions to success – as they leverage the abilities of others to accomplish exponential multiples of what they could have achieved by themselves.  While there should be very little difference in one’s leadership style when facing success OR unexpected hurdles (whether at work, at home or in a relationship), far too many “competent” individuals take full responsibility for accomplishments and excuse their action (or inaction) by blaming them on or deferring them to others rather than sharing credit for things done well and accepting responsibility for actions that may have led to unwanted consequences.  A good leader bends to fit into their surroundings rather than standing firmly against life’s storms.  An exceptional leader utilizes all the resources at his or her disposal to ensure success, safety and continued progress rather than seeking personal praise and short term-gain (popularity, acceptance, being “liked”) while pursuing excellence. 

Leadership (and life) could be thought of as a ship at sea – needing a form of propulsion, a means of stabilization, a method to control direction and a way to hold fast in order to safely travel a charted course in the pursuit of a not yet discovered destination.  When setting and communicating a course of action, a Leader must take responsibility for his or her actions AND the consequences of the team’s actions by taking ownership of a situation rather than blaming another for an unfortunate circumstance – accepting and facing reality while constantly pushing towards an anticipated destination.   He or she must act as a sail by capturing the wind to push the team forward – anticipating and avoiding changes in the winds that could disrupt progress.  Without a sail (or motor, for the less classical thinker), a ship will drift endlessly upon the currents without intentional motion or expected results.  A sail pushes a ship forward much as a good leader encourages forward progress by recognizing and anticipating the contributions of each member as the team progresses towards a final destination.  When propulsion is removed, a ship will stall.  When leadership is missing, a team may wallow and a relationship may drift aimlessly and before eventually (possibly) reaching a destination (which is often unplanned, unexpected and less than ideal). 

A ship needs both a rudder and a keel in order to “stay the course” as it progresses forward.  Without some form of steering a ship cannot turn – and while the quickest path between two points IS a straight line, life rarely provides unobstructed access to our goals.  Without some kind of stability – a keel or ballast beneath the surface – a ship will tilt, lean and possibly capsize before it reaches its destination.  A Leader must ask the right questions when investigating a situation – listening for useful input from others – while steering around obstacles (or correcting missteps) in the pursuit of a final objective.  A Leader takes his or her personal obligations (and credibility) more seriously than his or her personal work expectations.  Anticipated or planned objectives invariably change but a course charted by intentional thought and navigated with integrity can lead a team through any unexpected obstacle or unwanted disruption.  Trust is not earned easily but MUST be attained through consistent demonstration within an individual’s life as it often becomes the stability that keeps a team on course.  While taking the easy road that needs no navigation or situational stabilization (ignoring a situation or partially concealing a truth) may be less painful and create fewer short-term disruptions or distractions, individuals preferring to dodge responsibility for their choices and actions will never be seen as credible leaders when they are provided the opportunity to lead – and straight and narrow paths through waters having no turbulence are rarely encountered in life.

A ship cannot travel forever without stopping for replenishment.  While a sailboat needs only the wind to move forward and a nuclear-powered ship could theoretically travel nearly forever, both have to stop at some point to resupply.  A ship does not typically reach its final destination by accident and without an adequate anchor (or anchorage) holding the ship steady – providing safety from the elements – a crew could not rest (causing the journey to become dangerous).  Ships need an anchor to secure them while considering a new course BEFORE venturing forth if a destination is to be reached with maximum efficiency.  Likewise, a team needs “an anchor” to hold it back long enough to examine how it must proceed as it seeks new and innovative resolutions.  Fools rush in – leaders step back so they can understand what was done, why it happened and what could be done differently BEFORE pushing relentlessly forward.  UNLESS a leader can identify sails, rudders, keels and anchors within his or her team – accepting each part’s abilities and limitations – the path to success will never be traveled without tragic mishap.  Life Leadership requires us to acknowledge sails, stability, direction and time for reevaluation if we are to be successful as we move towards effective problem resolution and the intentional accomplishment of our objectives.